In Focus: Integrating The Green And The Blue

When you look at our planet, in the long term it has been shaped by water; the infrastructure of waterflow, sedimentation and erosion. What can we learn from water and how can we transform it for cities?

All cities rely on water. In fact, most beautiful cities have a waterfront – it’s popular, trendy and can add different perspectives to a place. For example, seeing London from the Thames will give you a totally different viewpoint. It’s fair to say however that most places don’t look like the trendy work water-on-rooftop vision that comes to mind as water is often in the background of places following the urbanisation of our environment and changed water regime, and this is something that needs to change.

We know temperatures are changing, and this is creating extremes. We have either too much water or too little causing dust pollution, bad air pollution and this is all, I believe, directly related to our failure to successfully consider and integrate our blue and green infrastructure.

So what’s the solution? Of course it will be context-dependent, but in general we need decentralised, multifunctional solutions that are combined to slow down, evaporate and cleanse water supply as well as underground solutions which store and recycle. We can also harvest it from the sky and use it as a way of cooling and heating buildings. Going forwards, I also firmly believe that we will develop more and more solutions for recycling water, that we can’t even imagine today.

Water can also be about beauty. It reflects light and gives atmosphere which makes it a fantastic artistic element. There are many ways of ranking liveability and more important than the hard facts are the soft components – not just physical conditions. It’s this social side and identity which is the driver for the next generation. Blue and green schemes are always about public realm and as such their development needs to include public involvement, so we are able to respond to and integrate knowledge and emotions into a proposal and deliver real social value.

So what do we recommend for change? Leadership, financing and good arguments are needed to bring blue/green back into cities. Successful schemes have strong visions driven by communities and led by skilled and knowledgeable professionals. The resultant solutions can be really quite bold, such as controlled flood areas within public spaces, which transform a green space to blue. As such it is important that everyone is on board. Shared values are essential, and these are delivered through dialogue. There also needs to be structural capacity and multidisciplinary working. Finally, there needs to be opportunity – natural disasters and extreme events give us a window of opportunity for response, but this window is short lived and must be seized quickly if change is to be brought about.

Herbert Dreseitl AoU
Director of Ramboll’s Liveable Cities Lab

This is an extract from AoU Congress 2016: The Future of Urbanism

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